Transport takes its toll on business as Beast from the East bites

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 28 Feb 2018

ONE of the harshest snow dumps in a decade was causing severe issues for businesses across the region today.

Logistics of people and products became a primary concern as roads ground to a standstill, gridlocked, and public transport was severely hampered. 

The Beast from the East delivered its much-anticipated icy blast, with inches of snow settling, and drifting, as strong winds carried it across open areas with force.

Early flights into and out of Humberside Airport from Amsterdam and Aberdeen were affected, with cancellations and delays. On the rails there were delays between Brough and Howden caused by line-side equipment stuck, leaving lines blocked. Trains on the Transpennine Express services heading from Hull towards Selby were stood. 

When substantial delays are the order of the day, perishable products come to the forefront of thinking, with seafood the area's biggest export, also one of the most vulnerable to serious supply chain hold-ups.

Grimsby Fish Market’s morning auction went ahead as usual, albeit sales were slow with concern about immediate transport and onward sales over coming days, with Britain’s fish and chip shops key outlets.

Chief executive of operator Grimsby Fish Dock Enterprises, Martyn Boyers, said: “We had a market, about 800 boxes of fish which had arrived yesterday, so that wasn’t a problem. Today it is about getting the fish away. The sales were slow, with uncertainty about transport.”

While the port estate was operating fine, delays outside from Lockhill onwards were causing significant issues, with one merchant having taken nearly two hours to get back to Hull, Mr Boyers said. There will be concern about Thursday’s supply getting through too.

“We had a normal day’s fish available, the problem will be getting the fish out,” he said. “There won’t be many people eating fish and chips tonight, so trade is going to be much reduced. Business is going to be poor for a few days, which is something we’ve not seen for a while.

“It is an unusual position. When you’re dealing in perishable goods, there are so many complexities. You can put it on a vehicle to deliver, but if it doesn’t get there, or the condition isn’t right, and buyer no longer wants it, they are stuck in the middle and that’s when problems arise. The fish merchants and processors can be exposed.”

Reflecting on the fact the last really bad snow was seven years ago, he said: ““It is going to be a slow day for all, but we’ve got to grin and bear it. You cannot cater for something that rarely happens. 

A visit to the market by the board of Seafish, the industry authority, fell victim to the weather.

ABOUT TO HEAD OUT: Waltham Logistics vehicles are loaded up in the relative shelter of the bay, before tackling the conditions. Picture: Waltham Logistics / Twitter.

Giving an insight into what the area’s logistics sector has to deal with was financial director at Hedges Chilled Distribution Ltd, Paul Jackson.

Working with food manufacturers and retailers, the Waltham Airfield-based operator is at the sharp end.  

“A lot of replanning is going on as we have 15 trucks and some are already out on the road,” he said. “We have had issues with drivers getting into work, warehouse staff, then it comes down to the roads. We have deliveries today over the M62 and down the A1, which is shut.  Drivers are also driving around Grimsby to pick pallets up to then send out and the roads are gridlocked. It is not just one factor, it is six or seven factors at play, even down to the office staff getting in too. There’s a knock-on effect as well, as anything we don’t deliver, there’s an assumption we can just take it tomorrow, but if trucks are already full there are ramifications there too.” 

Neighbour Dot Coull, business development and supply chain manager at Waltham Logistics, looks after food packaging for local and national manufacturers, often with just-in-time delivery models.

“We have to keep going out, and we’re very aware of our responsibilities,” she said. “If we as an industry don’t get out on the road, stuff doesn’t get in to the shops. We have three on the road at the moment, and while it is gridlocked in Grimsby and therefore taking much longer, when we get out on to the motorway it is all right at the moment.” 

There is one mitigating factor, as while moving product is a tough call for one of the UK’s haulage hotspots, storing it will benefit from the sub-zero temperatures, as energy requirements for the huge cold storage cluster reduce.  

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